Group Therapy is a form of psychological treatment in which patients with personality and emotional problems gather in group sessions with a therapist, usually a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.
The groups vary in size from 5 to 20 patients. Several therapists often assist the chief therapist.
Types of Group Therapy
The American Handbook of Psychiatry lists five common approaches employed in group therapy.
(1) In didactic groups the therapist presents material and encourages the patients to react to it.
(2) Therapeutic social clubs are organized so that the patients may practice participation in social activities and increase their social skills.)
(3) Inspirational groups emphasize identification with the group and emotional involvement in the purposes of the group (Alcoholics Anonymous is an example).
(4) Psychodrama allows patients to act out their personality problems on a stage.
(5) In free-interaction groups the therapist encourages free and open discussion of problems and feelings.
Development of the Technique
Joseph H. Pratt, an American internist, has been credited by many medical historians with being the first group therapist. In 1905 he brought tuberculosis patients together in a group to discuss some of their problems and their reactions to their illness. He observed that these meetings seemed to stimulate his patients and helped to raise their morale.
Later he employed the group technique with patients suffering from other chronic physical ailments. Pratt employed a variety of techniques, including testimony by patients, relaxation, the expression of emotions, and strong positive suggestion by the therapist.
Shortly thereafter, L. C. Marsh, an American psychiatrist, employed group therapy with neurotic adults. He lectured to his patients on topics in mental hygiene and encouraged them to read books pertinent to mental health, and to discuss their reactions to what they had read.
In 1921, J. L. Moreno, a psychiatrist in Vienna, developed the "Theater of Spontaneity". His patients acted out their personality problems on stage. The therapist served as director, the patient was the central character who acted out his problems, and other therapists and patients played in the cast. Moreno brought his method to America, where it is now widely used.
Freudian methods have also been used in group therapy with neurotics and mildly schizophrenic patients. The greatest impetus to the growth of group therapy came during World War II, when psychiatrists and psychologists in the military services turned to group methods because of heavy patient loads and the shortage of trained personnel.
In group therapy, patients learn that they are not alone in feeling uncomfortable about interpersonal relations. The therapist encourages the expression. of emotions, and the group tends to accept the feelings of its members. The other members of the group play an important role in assisting each patient to test the reality of his fears and other feelings. Transference of strong emotional feelings to others in the group occur, but. transference is not as intense as it is toward the therapist in individual treatment. The patient learns from his group experiences the role he plays in his own problems and gains a better understanding of the attitudes others have toward him.